Over the years, unrealistic body standards have increased with the rise of social media. Yet despite all the pressure, obesity in America has never been higher and is a significant health concern. The impact of obesity on healthcare needs and demand is actually considered a factor in rising healthcare costs.
What causes obesity in America?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, individuals deemed “obese” weigh more than a healthy amount for their height. To be specific, obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. For a person who is 5’9″ tall, a BMI of 30 is usually reached at a body weight of about 203 pounds.
There are many causes of obesity. It can result from a genetic predisposition; from poor habits related to eating, physical activity, and sleeping; or from illnesses or medications that lead to weight gain.
- Genetic predisposition: Certain gene variants increase hunger and, in turn, food intake.
- Eating habits: Dietary guidelines suggest ways to maintain a healthy weight through what you eat. Not everyone adheres to them, and sometimes the lack of compliance is due simply to an inability to afford or access healthy foods.
- Physical activity: There is also a physical activity guideline. However, physical disability or a sedentary job can make it more difficult to meet these recommendations.
- Sleep deprivation: Those who do not get enough sleep typically snack more, eat less healthy foods, and pursue less recreational activity.
What is the economic cost of obesity?
The CDC estimates that obesity costs the U.S. healthcare system nearly $173 billion a year.
- According to the National Library of Medicine, obesity is the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Between medical expenses and lost productivity, this chronic condition cost the U.S. economy about $327 billion in 2017 alone.
- BMC Public Health studied the effect of obesity on healthcare spending between 2006 and 2016. They found that as we move through the next decade, obesity is likely to drive costs higher.
What can employers do to help?
In a recent Mayo Clinic study, 83% said they are trying to lose weight because they value health above all other goals. Employers can support this motivation both in the workplace and in their benefit programs.
Employers can make a difference during the workplace by implementing a few simple changes:
- Provide access to standing desks to reduce sedentary time
- Encourage employees to spend their lunch breaks walking through the office and around the building
- Stock vending machines with more nutritious options
There are also ways to support employee efforts to maintain a healthy weight through employee benefits plan options.
Flexible Spending Accounts
While not all Flexible Spending Account plans support weight-loss efforts, some permit them with a Letter of Medical Necessity from a doctor or medical practitioner.
Lifestyle Spending Accounts
Still relatively new to the benefits market, Lifestyle Spending Accounts enable employers to reimburse employees for almost any expense that improves their well-being. For example, employers can choose to help employees pay for at-home fitness equipment, fitness apps and trackers, and gym memberships. Other options include contributing to the costs of personal trainers, classes to learn healthy cooking, and food supplements.
What’s the bottom line?
Healthcare costs due to obesity are high and trending higher. Related chronic illness and lost productivity impacts the whole economy. Employers can adopt a healthier office environment at any point. And with 2023 enrollment just months away, now is a good time for employers to consider benefits programs that can help their employees achieve healthier lifestyles.
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